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An Old, but Underappreciated Foe

Nov. 18, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

We had the only double lot in the neighborhood, and therefore the biggest front and back yards around. In between the two, there was our house. It was grand central for grimy kids with skinned knees and chipped teeth.

A whole lot of maple trees in the back didn’t get in the way of wiffle ball, home run derby, volleyball and more. We’d kick field goals between two trees, over a rope at 10 feet. In the front, we played football unless a big game was on. Then, the field at a nearby Church for the Deaf served as the gridiron. That parking lot could be a rough landing area in goal-line situations.

In all our hypotheticals, and they were legion, we never pretended to beat Duke.

The Blue Devils were not on our radars. It wasn’t just that we were provincial in Columbus, Ohio, but little blue was irrelevant. They never showed up on TV, nor in Sports Illustrated, so beating them wouldn’t have meant much.

Shoot, beating someone you didn’t know existed wouldn’t count for a thing.

In the early and mid-1970s, the Blue Devils were well removed from their most recent ACC title (`62) and years ahead of their next (’89 under coach Steve Spurrier). That was a drought, to be sure, and we fancied ourselves conquerors of Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Pitt from relatively nearby precincts.

If we were to stretch our fantasies, we’d thump on potential Ohio State Rose Bowl foes USC and UCLA, or maybe Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska or Arkansas from afar.

We’d see all these schools on TV from time to time, and there was a kid on the fringe, a part-time rat packer whose name I forget (maybe it was Finney?), who wore Auburn shirts. His parents were AU grads, I think. He’d bring up Alabama, too.

Duke’s still irrelevant, which may be a karmic payback for those in ACC territory routinely tortured by the Blue Devils’ basketball fortunes.

They’ve won just that single conference title in 40 years, and although there have been pockets of flash, such as some of the coach Fred Goldsmith days, nine of their last 10 coaches had or have losing records. Duke has been to two bowls since 1960, losing the All-American under Spurrier in ’89, and the Hall of Fame in ’94 at the end of Goldsmith’s first season.

The only exception to the career losing record rule dating all the way back to the departure of Bill Murray (93-51-9 from ’51-`65) was Spurrier. He went 20-13-1 from ’87-’89. That was considered such a Herculean accomplishment that it landed him a job at his beloved alma mater, Florida.

Today’s game matters for Georgia Tech, though, and not only to help the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 4-3 ACC) better position themselves in the race for bowl bids, but also to help build.

Coach Paul Johnson seems on his way to something, with a chance should the Jackets win three more games to become the first coach since Bobby Dodd retired after the ’66 season to hit double-digit wins twice in his Tech tenure.

Duke has lost five straight games (3-7, 1-5), but the Blue Devils have been competitive in several of them. They nearly beat Wake Forest (24-23), and gave Virginia Tech considerable grief (14-10).

Those games, like today’s, were in Durham, N.C.

There’s going to be plenty of passing, and although quarterback Sean Renfree has thrown just eight touchdown passes, he’s quite likely to put it in the air 40 times.

In general, Tech has struggled more with teams that run the ball downhill, like Virginia and Virginia Tech. So the Jackets may have that going for them.

An injury of unknown substance to B-back Orwin Smith won’t aid the visitors, and as was mentioned by Johnson this week, Tech hasn’t received standard production out of the B-back position from David Sims (a converted quarterback) and walk-on Preston Lyons.

In Johnson’s first three seasons on The Flats, he had future NFL backs Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen going for about 1,300 yards per season from the ever-critical B-back spot. The position and all its participants are not on track for that this season.

“It hasn’t been the production that we would have liked, but I don’t think it’s necessarily all the B-backs. That’s a function of a lot of thing,” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen any real gaping holes that they’ve failed to run through.”

All of this means that Charles Perkins, a savior in the eyes of some fans, is going to play some today. Should he hang onto the ball, heretofore a pock against him, his chances will improve. So, too, might the Jackets’ today and down the road.

Perkins arrived at Tech a couple years ago with some expectation attached, courtesy of glowing reports offered by some of the recruiting writers who are so widely read these days by college football fans. Some of the faithful already have it in their minds that Perkins can be something special.

Trying to envision what he might do today, and for that matter in the future, isn’t much different than what we used to do back in the day.

Upon gathering for those pickup football games, we’d pick who we were going to be for the day. Ohio State stars like Archie Griffin, Cornelius Greene, Pete Johnson, Randy Gradishar and others would go quickly.

The rest would choose stars of the day gleaned from TV and SI. USC’s Sam “Bam” Cunningham, Penn State’s John Cappelletti, Pitt’s Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell of Texas, or, well, you get the picture.

Then, we’d pretend collectively while beating on each other a bit, all in fun. We thought we’d be great, felt we were better than we were even after we weren’t. Man, it was fun.

Duke never came up, I’m virtually certain. If one team was whaling on the other, the winning side might heckle the other as, “Hoosiers.” You didn’t want to be Indiana back then (or now).

You wanted to beat IU down. Ditto Duke today, or there will be no fun.

Changing gears dramatically . . . I attended my first swim meet ever at Dynamo (off Shallowford Rd. in DeKalb County) on Thursday night, and they have this board of “pool records.” Courtney Shealy, yes, the same one who coaches swimming at Georgia Tech, still holds the mark in the 100 backstroke. She set that record (53.79) in 2003, the same year some guy named Michael Phelps set NINE records in the same pool.

The oldest pool records still standing are held by Angel Myers (later Martino and now Myers-Sims) of Americus, Ga. In 1988, she was big-time, one of the very best swimmers in the world. I was an intern at the AJC at the time, and with the Seoul Games upcoming, and the college football season afoot nearly everyone on what was then a huge sports staff at the paper (50+) was engaged. So .. . I was summoned to report about her appeal of a positive drug test after she’d blown away the field at the Olympic Trials.

On separate occasions, I traveled to Denver for her arbitration (she claimed it was a false positive caused by birth control pills), which she lost, and to Americus. I still remember being the first reporter, somehow, to get in the house and talk to her parents. I have a vivid recollection of sitting at the kitchen table, trying to hide my trembling hands, as Kirt Myers – Angel’s father – drank a can of Budweiser.

Google reveals he died in an automobile accident in 2001.

All this is is evidence that we live in a small world more closely connected that first thought allows. When I play “football” with my son and two daughters in the front yards, it’s a bit like stepping back in time and into the ol’ front yard in C-bus.

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